Children and Eating Disorders

By Erika Paramore, M. Ed, LPCC,

I have a daughter and I can’t tell you the millions of times I have hoped she will not struggle with one of the most complicated disorders out there. These diseases have become rampant in our society, afflicting children at increasingly younger ages. In my experience with hundreds of eating disordered individuals and their families, conquering these disorders is entirely possible with the right attitude, endurance, and treatment team.  The most important factor in prevention and treatment is learning what eating disorders are and what they are not.

Eating Disorders: What They Are

Eating disorders are diseases of

∙ The body, affecting nutrition and physical health

∙ The mind, affecting cognition and attitudes

∙ The psyche, affecting feelings and emotions

∙ The ability to be sociable, affecting relationships and personal interactions

∙ The soul, affecting one’s quality of life and capacity to enjoy inner peace

Anorexia Nervosacharacterized by self-starvation, restriction and excessive weight loss. Intense fear of weight gain or being fat.  Extreme concern with body weight and shape.

Bulimia Nervosa– characterized by a secretive cycle of binge eating followed by purging.  Includes eating large amounts of food, then getting rid of the food through vomiting, laxative abuse, or over-exercising.

Binge Eating Disorder characterized by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full.  Body weight may vary from normal to mild, moderate, or severe obesity.

Eating Disorders, Not Otherwise Specified– a diagnostic category used to describe disorders of eating that do not meet the criteria for one specific disorder.

Signs of Eating Disorders

Poor self-image

Feels fat even when thin; describes fat as a feeling

Denies hunger

Makes excuses not to eat in front of others

Exercises excessively

Uses the bathroom frequently after meals

Moodier or more irritable than usual

Lacks good coping skills

Fears not measuring up

Withdraws socially

Compares self to others (especially body image)

Frequently weighs self


Eating Disorders: What They Are NOT

Eating disorders are not

∙Just about food

∙About weight management

∙About being crazy

∙Caused by controlling mothers and passive fathers



Reaching Out For Professional Help

If you suspect disordered eating in a loved one, your primary job is to help them get help.  The sooner an eating disorder is caught, the sooner and more successful the recovery.  Your first task is to network in your community, using every personal and professional connection available to you: family doctors, friends, relatives, school counselors, internet, yellow pages, etc.  Eating disorder support organizations such as the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) and are also excellent referral sources.


Recovery is based on two premises: People can and do change, and in the search for solutions, if one thing doesn’t work, something else will.   Because eating disorders affect the entire family, recovery requires support, learning, and change from all family members, which can enhance the closeness of a family.

I tell patients that things tend to get worse before they get better in treatment of an eating disorder.  Denial is common and rarely do patients want to do what it takes to recover.  Letting go of an eating disorder is difficult because individuals feel confused and frustrated about wanting to give up the security it provides.  Patients usually feel intense fear of letting go before they feel the positive feelings that come from recovery.  But, I’ve never seen a client who wants to go back to an eating disorder once they’ve experienced recovery.

If you suspect someone you know has a problematic relationship with food, please do not be afraid to reach out for help.  These disorders seem straightforward, but they are extremely complex and can quickly spin out of control.  Your role will vary from situation to situation and from one stage of recovery to another, but you can be a major player in the recovery process with support and encouragement.

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Erika Paramore, M. Ed,  is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who received her M. Ed from Vanderbilt University in 1999. Erika worked with colleagues on the development of the Eating Disorder Coalition of Tennessee in 2001 and was co-founder of the Alabama Network for Eating Disorder Awareness in 2004.  She currently works in private practice in Louisville, treating adolescents and adults for eating disorders, women’s issues, and mood disorders. Erika uses a Cognitive Behavioral approach to help clients manage stress, adapt to life transitions, and understand the underlying causes of their problems. For her private practice contact information: Frankel and Associates at (502) 851-4402.



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